How to become a Strategic Advisor... We answer your questions
— March 9th, 2017
Poppulo webinars are really on a roll. Interest is at an all time high and guest presenters are providing fantastic key takeaways which are practical, useful and implementable to all types of organizations. The February 2017 webinar with leadership expert Jim Shaffer on How to add measurable results and value as a strategic advisor was no different, and with over 1100 registrants, follow up questions were a plenty. Seeing as there was not enough time to answer every question during the live webinar, Jim has provided us with the answers to some of the questions that didn't get addressed and need more elaboration. I hope you find them useful.
Q. Would you not want to have a solid business case before approaching your business leaders?
A. You could do it that way but it often requires some data gathering to build the business case. Having the leaders’ support might facilitate your data gathering that leads to the business case.
Q. My experiences: DMU's have worked for months on a strategy/action/... and then come to communications to organize 'something'. However, at that moment, all decisions are already made. So people have to come together to fill in some post-its, knowing nothing will change those plans. So it's key to get involved much earlier. How does communications know what/when DMU's are planning something?
A. There’s no one right way with this but I’ve found that asking the leaders questions that they haven’t addressed or thought about enables me to demonstrate why it’s valuable for me to participate at earlier stages. You can also point out flaws in their thinking or decision-making based on best practices. The objective is to demonstrate that you can add value and prevent mistakes when you are in the process much earlier. The questions you ask need to be hard business-related questions.
Q. Other than having insight into it, does the activity cost in the grid mentioned in the webinar have any influence on how you execute? It makes sense to make sure everything is high value/high performance, but I'm not seeing how the cost affects things.
A. Execution drives the importance and performance scores. “ABC Activity is important to helping me do my job better” (importance). “ABC Activity is meeting my expectations” (performance). When these answers are low, it’s likely an execution issue. But it could also be the wrong kind of activity.
Q. Do you have an example of an initiative or campaign that does not support the business? Falls into the "Stop Doing" column.
A. Organization announcements are the most common. Many news-oriented publications don’t drive results. It doesn’t mean you don’t do them. You might shift the work out of the communication function or do them differently.
Q. How do you tackle the assistants of C-suite executives who see comms as responsible for what is really an assistant's job?
A. The business case and value-to-cost assessment as well as an activity analysis I referred to can surface where the wrong people are doing certain kinds of work and where there would be cost savings by having lower paid people do the work.
Q. How much value do you place on employee engagement as a measure of success in internal communications?
A. Engagement only measures a condition not a positive or negative results. People who create medicines to fight hepatitis C are engaged. So are people who blow other people up. Both are engaged. The measure needs to be a results measure, not a process measure.
Q. What would be the best KPIs to show the value of Comms?
A. Effect on measures that matter, including quality, service delivery, cost, accidents, damage, etc. It’s what the organization needs to do to execute the business strategy. That’s what should be measured. Communication people too often measure communication activity but don’t know the effect communication has on the actions and results that are created. Typically, results don’t change unless work changes.
Q. One of the challenges with communication strategy is that the results are often intangible, making it difficult to provide metrics to leaders on how communications activities are driving change/value to the business. Do you have any advice on ways in which to capture this over time?
A. If the results are intangible you’re likely not measuring the right things. We establish a baseline when we start a client project. Let’s say it’s an on-time delivery improvement project. We capture the OTD number from the day before we arrive at the client site. We then keep a running score of OTD as we work to improve it. We celebrate progress almost daily as part of a continuous improvement process. Most measures are around or related to quality, service delivery and costs. That would include sales, revenues, productivity, cycle time, safety, etc.
Q. How do you push back on "get this done" vs comm effort with ROI attached? It is not that easy all the time to do that....There are comm habits and culture which require comm to just do it.....
A. That’s why getting leaders on board early makes sense. If they know what other companies have done to manage communication for results and see the value it has been to others, they will tend to want to have it too. You’re right it’s not easy. I hope I accidentally didn’t say, “This is easy.” It takes work to turn some people around but as I said on the webinar, when the leaders see others benefiting they will want to benefit too.
You can push back nicely when someone says, “Just get it done?” Something like, “I will do that but are you sure you want to spend $100 without a return? Isn’t that inconsistent with our business strategy?” Or, “I’m concerned that when we spend $10,000 without a return we’re actually draining money from the company. Are you sure that’s what we want to be doing?” Many times it’s not about having the right answers but having the right questions.
Q. How can you clearly separate the results of communication effort in terms of ROI from the impact other efforts from other functions in the company have on the specific strategy aspect managed?
A. You sometimes can’t nor should you need to do so. It’s like trying to determine the extent to which the French horns or the violins created the standing ovation at the end of the concert. This is about integration and teams. Historically communication has been about communication and it has often been disconnected from the business. We’re trying to create connections that win. We want to reduce the extent to which the communication function is an outsider.
Q. I struggle with the results/measurement piece. Can you speak to how other internal communication teams obtain ROI results, numbers or percentage improvements?
A. It’s the same way every function generates a ROI. It’s not just about communication people. FedEx communication people led an effort in Los Angeles that increased export sales by 23%. That amounted to a 1,447% ROI. ROI considers the costs and the results created with the costs. Here’s a simple calculation:
Investment equals $4,700
Return equals $185,000
$185,000 minus $4,700 equals $180,300.
$180,300 divided by $4,700 equals a 3,836 % ROI.
Q. Do you ever come to the UK to hold workshops?
A. I have none planned in the UK now but would certainly conduct a workshop for a UK organization/s that is/are interested. I mentioned that I conduct workshops for a single company’s people or for multiple companies meeting together. The workshops are one half day, one day and one and one-half days. The latter one is the most comprehensive and the most popular.
From reading Jim's answers, you might also be interested reading the 12 top tips to prove your value in IC and become a strategic advisor.
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